A walk with Sidney Jackson #2

SJ would certainly have told us that during a walk you can never look too hard at the constituent parts of a dry-stone wall. Most readers will know that Bradford once had two great iron works at Bowling and Low Moor. The blast furnaces were fed by local iron ore found in the roof of the Black Bed coal seam, and coke made from the deeper Better Bed coal. As the mineral resources in the neighbourhood of the iron works were worked out great networks of tramways, or mineral lines, grew up to transport the precious commodities from further and further afield. Naturally the lines rested on sleepers which in this area are likely to have been made of stone. I have never been lucky to locate any of these myself but most of my walking is done in north Bradford where mining was uninfluenced by the iron works. In the Archaeology Group Bulletin of March 1964 SJ published his drawing of stone sleepers from East Bierley which seemingly had been found on a wall top. He gave approximate dimensions of 20 by 12 by 8 inches and described the rails themselves, long vanished of course, as being of cast iron and approximately one yard in length. Cast iron was brittle and consequently wrought iron, and then steel, were preferable for railway tracks.

Stone Sleepers

In the article it is suggested that pits at East Bierley supplied Low Moor ironworks but it seems that this wasn’t the case. At the time SJ wrote Derek Pickles was already working on his very detailed study of Bowling Iron Company’s mineral tramways, now curated by Bradford Industrial Museum.

East Bierley tramways

He recorded that ‘in 1839 the company leased 1200 acres of land in Toftshaw and Hunsworth from the Earl of Scarborough, and began to work pits in the area’. Bore hole reports available from the British Geological Survey suggest that Shertcliffe Coal was at 30m depth in this area, and was widely exploited. The fact that there were also ironstone miners and ironstone pits in East Bierley suggests that the ironstone containing Black Bed Coal seam was also being accessed about 67m below the Shertcliffe Coal. Derek Pickles reported that the Bowling Iron Company already had shafts of 95m depth to reach the Better Bed coal but when it ‘extended its operations into Hunsworth, Toftshaw and Tong much larger and deeper pits were sunk’.

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